Wednesday, March 18, 2009

April at Twist Jen Cartwright at 73

Jennifer Cartwright: artist statement
Online portfolio:

Before I ever thought of myself as a sculptor, I was a papermaker. I taught myself the basics of papermaking from books and the internet, mostly by experimentation. To make decent recycled paper, all you need is a kitchen blender, water, a mounted piece of screen (called a “deckle”) and a flat surface for drying. Like many ancient crafts, papermaking is quick to learn but requires a lifetime of dedication to master; simple in concept yet endlessly complex in its challenges and rewards.

My papermaking took on sculptural dimensions in response to a simple question: if a flat deckle can be pulled up through paper pulp to collect the fibers, I asked myself, could I pull a more complex wire form through the paper pulp instead? My first experiments with a few twisted strands of wire produced intriguing results: paper fibers do indeed cling to the wire, and in the drying process they mesh together and condense, forming a richly textured “flesh” of paper over the wire skeleton. Once dry, the wire/paper form can be twisted, curled or manipulated into a variety of shapes. Encouraged by this discovery, I began making ever more complex wire sculptures as substrates for paper fiber, incorporating techniques like knitting and crochet and mixing together a variety of gauges, from sturdy bailing wire to hair-thin beading strands.

Soon enough, a problem emerged: fragility. Newly created sculptures are intricate and flexible, but with repeated handling the paper fibers begin to loose their grip on the wire, and will eventually disintegrate and flake off. If the piece gets wet, the problem is worsened: water is the medium which arranged the fibers in the first place and it can easily wash them away again. The solution I’ve found is to use acrylic media as binding agents. Imagine zooming in to the microscopic level of a finished sculpture: you would see paper fibers wrapped and tangled like threads around each strand of metal, held sturdily in place by long polymers of acrylic. The resulting piece is flexible, durable, waterproof, and can be made opaque, translucent, or even virtually transparent, depending on the types of acrylics used and the ratio of acrylic to paper fiber.

My most recent challenge has been to “scale up” the dimensions of my work, from individual hand-held pieces to a room-filling installation. Nature offers a model for this: a repetition of modular units (a leaf / a hair / a cell / a root…) all similar but no two the same, nested together into a pattern of subtle complexity. While an organism like a tree makes these units simultaneously, I only know how to work sequentially, accumulating piles of wire forms, all of a common design but each slightly different from the varying movements of my hands over time. As I add layers of paper fiber and acrylic, sometimes also incorporating thread, glue and pigments, each segment takes shape before my eyes. The final product is—in a very real sense—of its own creation more than it is mine, and it may bear only abstract resemblance to my initial idea. I’ve come to think that I do not “make” these sculptures, so much as I nurture them through the process of becoming, much like a parent or a gardener. Illumination and movement are the final maturation phase of each work, and the interaction of light and gravity, suspension and shadow can produce an infinite complexity of sculptural results.

Jennifer Cartwright: Biography

Jennifer Cartwright is a self-taught paper artist and bookmaker, born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work incorporates handmade wire forms, recycled paper fibers and acrylic pigment to create sculptural works which are lightweight, flexible, and waterproof. She is also a Ph.D. student in biology at Tennessee State University, where she’s studying the abilities of soil bacteria to break down harmful chemicals in the environment. Thus it’s no surprise that much of her work incorporates organic imagery—pattern, translucence, nested repetition—or that her sculptural process is experimental and emerges from the media she uses: wire, paper, plastic / metal, fiber, polymer.

Jennifer has also worked as a community organizer, gardener, tutor, and a painter of sets for country music videos (ahh, Nashville…) So far, her artwork has all been created in the kitchen of her tiny apartment and in the studio of her mother and mentor Sally Rutledge, a ceramic artist and science teacher. Soon, however, she is moving up the road to Joelton, where she’ll have her own dedicated studio surrounded by goats, blackberries, chickens and bamboo.

Jennifer Cartwright: Online Portfolio